The King's Will
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Bible Passage: 2 Samuel 2:12-3
Two weeks ago, we started looking at Abner’s rebellion against the kingship of David. And it occurred to me, preparing for this sermon, that Americans are tempted to think of rebellion in a positive way. The United States began as a rebellion against a king. We even love stories of rebellion. Star Wars, Divergent, The Hunger Games, Les Misérables… we love a rebel with a cause.
And because of our affinity for rebellion and our history, we need to work extra hard to understand the kingdom theme in the Bible. Rebellion may be in our nature, but it isn’t always a good thing. With that in mind, let’s return to the story of Abner in 2 Samuel 2.
12 Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon.
This is a battle march into the territory of David.
13 And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. And they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.
Notice that neither king is present. David and Ish-bosheth are not part of this battle.
14 And Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men arise and compete before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise.” 15 Then they arose and passed over by number, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David.
Abner proposes a competition, almost like a medieval tournament. The word in Hebrew suggests a game or a sport, not a fight to the death. It is also significant that they choose twelve men each. Most commentaries think the idea is that they are using this tournament to determine God’s favor. Twelve men, twelve tribes. But things don’t go as planned.
16 And each caught his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side, so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is at Gibeon.
In other words, the game turned violent, and somehow all 24 men killed each other at the same time. If they were looking for a sign from God, they got one and the message was this: “I have not sanctioned this tournament and I am not taking sides.”
But as the men fell, battle broke out between the two armies.
17 And the battle was very fierce that day. And Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David.
In the story that follows, Joab’s brother Asahel pursues Abner trying to get the glory for killing a commander. It’s like a scene out of a war movie. Abner warns him twice, but Asahel keeps pursuing him anyway. When Asahel finally catches him, Abner surprises him by stabbing backwards with his spear. Asahel dies, which creates a feud between Abner and Joab.
Let’s pause here and consider again Abner’s rebellion. Notice that things aren’t going well. He is trying to resist God’s kingdom by using force. He knows the truth. He witnessed the prophecies about David’s kingship, but he is actively rejecting it anyway.
And that is what rebellion against God always looks like – knowing the truth and actively rejecting it, even by force.
This is how Romans 1 describes the human heart: “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…”
In other words, we all have a lot in common with Abner.
3:1 There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.
In spite of the rebellion, God is working his plan. David’s kingdom is growing stronger. What follows is a list of David’s wives and sons at this point, without commentary. We won’t read them, but I want to mention that David had two wives when he moved to Hebron and now David has six wives!
David was likely using these marriages for political gain, to attempt to unify tribes and nearby groups of people. This was foolish and ultimately will cause David a lot of problems. This is just a brief reminder that even David was far from perfect.
6 While there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul.
Remember last week, Abner used Saul’s last remaining son to get power. And now, Ishbosheth begins to realize he was a pawn.
7 Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah. And Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?”
This was a serious charge. Sleeping with a king’s concubine was symbolic of taking his power.
8 Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah? To this day I keep showing steadfast love to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David. And yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman.
Notice that Abner doesn’t actually deny the charges.
9 God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the Lord has sworn to him, 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba.” 11 And Ish-bosheth could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.
And just like that, Abner decided to switch teams. But notice something important… Abner’s decision really has nothing to do with God or David. Abner is doing what is best for Abner. He even makes some kind of ethnic slur against the tribe of Judah in his reply to Ish-bosheth!
And there’s another important principle here. We may choose to align ourselves with the kingdom of God on the outside… but in our hearts, it is still about us – not God. You may be very religious. You may look like everyone else in the church. But if you’re here for yourself, it is still a form of rebellion.
This was Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees. He called them hypocrites and quoted Isaiah to them: “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” It was the religious people who most wanted Jesus dead. In other words, rebellion can look like good church-going folks. It can look like me. It can look like you.
12 And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, “To whom does the land belong? Make your covenant with me, and behold, my hand shall be with you to bring over all Israel to you.”
This is rather arrogant and presumptuous after Abner has attacked David’s army, but David accepts the opportunity to peacefully unite the tribes.
13 And he said, “Good; I will make a covenant with you. But one thing I require of you; that is, you shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see my face.”
On the surface, David had the right to ask for Michal. She was David’s wife first, promised to him by Saul and then taken away. And it seems politically expedient, because it gave David an opportunity to unite his blood line with Saul’s.
But David is acting on his own wisdom here. God didn’t authorize this. It meant taking a woman from her husband, which foreshadows another bad decision David is going to make in a few chapters. And ironically, Michal is going to die childless. Saul and David’s blood will not mix and the next few verses are heartbreaking.
14 Then David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, for whom I paid the bridal price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” 15 And Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband Paltiel the son of Laish.
16 But her husband went with her, weeping after her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” And he returned.
It would be easy to skip over this but pause for a moment and grieve with Paltiel the son of Laish. He watches his one love, his only wife being dragged away to another man who already has six wives and Paltiel is powerless to save her. She has become a bargaining chip in Abner’s scheme to keep himself in power. Ironically, the name “Paltiel” means “God is my deliverance”.
This is a drama that should remind us of Jesus and His bride, the church. Paltiel could only weep for His bride. Jesus died to win her back. God is my deliverance…
But let’s conclude the story of Abner. He keeps his bargain with David. He convinces the other tribes to recognize David as king. David throws a party and sends Abner away in peace.
But there’s a problem. Joab returns to Hebron from a raid and founds out that David made peace with Abner. He’s not happy about this, because Abner killed his brother and because Abner was also a threat to his own position as commander of the army.
Joab brings Abner back to the city and murders him. When David finds out, he is furious. This was a political disaster because everyone would assume David ordered Joab to kill Abner.
David tries to distance himself from the violence. He curses Joab and his family. He forces them to publicly grieve for Abner. And then David wrote a song in honor of Abner.
36 And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people. 37 So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s will to put to death Abner the son of Ner.
In spite of everything, God was still working out the details of David’s kingdom. David remained guiltless, even though violence was happening all around him.
And again, we see hints of the Gospel. Our King went to the cross to establish His kingdom. He went guiltless, but instead of the curse falling on the ones who deserve it – like Joab – the curse fell on our King, Jesus, so that we – the Abners and the Joabs – can have a place in the kingdom.
We were busy fighting for our own little kingdoms – in open rebellion against the kingdom of God. We will even use the things of God and the people of God to promote our own agenda. And that’s why we need Jesus. Rebellion against our king. That has always been our problem. That’s where the impulse to sin comes from.
Do you remember the last speech Samuel gave in 1 Samuel 12?
“If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.”
The good news is that the hand of the Lord was against us and our King – but our true King is Jesus and the hand of the Lord fell on Jesus instead of us. It was not the King’s will to put us to death. This is the good news of the kingdom. Repent and believe today. Repent and believe tomorrow. Long live the King.